Friday, November 27, 2009

Lessons learned

When I first became a mother, I knew there would be lessons along the way, but I never realized how much I would be learning from my son on a daily basis. Although the lessons go both ways, what I learn from him far outweighs what he learns from me.

This week alone my son taught me the following three things (and these are the things I remember; I'm sure he's taught me others):

1. How to throw two "frisbees" (plastic container covers) at the same time, and the utter coolness thereof.

2. How to spit. (I can't say I mastered this lesson to his satisfaction... probably got a B-)

3. That momma's can't get tired, but it's ok for daddy's to get tired. I'm still working on this one. I am hoping to get clarification on the translation.

And for my part, the only lesson I taught my boy is the fine art of picking a Cheerio up by your tongue. (It is truly magical.)

So, three to one, he's the better teacher by far.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


These days I've been thinking a bit about things: buying things, owning things, maintaining things, sorting things, keeping things clean, sharing things, giving things away. It's rather exhausting, this "Thing Maintenance." Seems like so much of life falls into one of these actions associated with things. Perhaps that's all a part of a bigger Thing we generally call "stewardship."

According to the dictionary, a steward is "a person who manages another's property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another or others." ( Hmmm... that's illuminating.

So, here's my take. If I'm a good steward in the context of stuff I generally label "mine," I'm actually recognizing that none of it is really mine, just on loan. And even more, if I'm a good steward, I'm keeping up this property belonging to *another* in such a way that it is in even better shape than when it was first loaned to me.

Ah... well, then I better get cleaning house. But I think I'll take a nap first.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Chicken soup for my stomach...

A rainy Saturday requires chicken soup, so it's a good thing I had made up a batch of broth the other day. Today I threw in a few extra unusual (for me) ingredients into my soup, added depth and punch to the flavor: tobasco sauce (a few shakes), handful of sundried tomato, sea salt (2 pinches), and brown rice. That was on top of the usual empty-out-the-veggie bin staples (potatoes, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, etc.). Oh, and yeah, some chicken. Soooo good.

I likely will add a few more bits and bobs before the day is over.

Hungry yet?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Try again

Our son has been very chatty lately, mostly like a parrot, repeating everything we say. (Yikes.)

He has his cute little boy fun sayings, like "awesome" and "oh, man" (said very expressively, and usually when frustrated).

Then there's the annoying when repeated over and over, but still cute, things, like "try again." He uses "try again" to say he wants to do something repeatedly, not just to say he'd like to get better through practice.

It's amazing to me how fixated a three-year-old can get on one thing, such as pushing his plastic toy lawn mower down the hill. "Try again, mama!" for the 50th time, as I watch, quaintly amused but truly bored out of my skull as the blue plastic lawn mower runs into the tree at the foot of the hill and Sam yells out an excited "Yes!" then, "Try again!" Ugh. Please not again. (Hey, it's not all cuddles and warm fuzzies, this motherhood thing, let's be real).

And there's just the nice spontaneous things that are the reward for enduring the 51st lawn mower run. One evening recently, after an especially long and grueling day at the office, Sam seemed to sense my exhaustion. He snuggled up in back of me on the couch, hugged me, played with my ponytail for a few minutes, then said thoughtfully, "Mama, you're pretty special."

Sigh. Try again.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Grateful thoughts

Ten grateful thoughts to close the weekend:

1. Nine months of hard work, five days of quality course delivery, my client is happy, and now I can rest.

2. Fresh cucumbers... yum.

3. Homemade guacamole... yummier!

4. Whiffle ball with my son.

5. Crazy dancing to Bee-bop-a-lu-la with my boys.

6. Church (ideally) is not a gathering place for the perfect, but a rest stop for the weary, a haven for the outcast, a balm for the broken, home for the homeless, family for the orphan... and a challenge for the complacent. Mine is.

7. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

8. Story time!

9. Learning new forms of poetry, immersing myself in words.

10. I am loved. Life is a miracle. (Yes, that is one thought.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Family and friends

A few Sunday evening thoughts as I close a full, long weekend away...

I have an enormous family, as large as life itself. They extend from sea to shining sea. My family makes me glad to be alive. They also get under my skin, challenging me to be more alive, alert, and growing.

I don't need many friends, just true ones. The truest are extensions of my ever expanding family, adopted brothers, sisters, cousins of my spirit.

I'm grateful for the times of fellowship and the times of missing that make the fellowship more sweet.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Yours, Mine, Ours

Sam was keeping me company last night as I was folding clothes in the bedroom. We chatted about this and that while I piled up towels and t-shirts and socks. At one point, I realized that my son was using a word repeatedly that I hadn't heard him use before: "Mine."

He would grab some clean jammies while I was trying to fold them and say, "Mine," before throwing them on the floor. "This is not going to work," I thought, for many reasons. It seemed as good a teachable moment as any for a 3 year old. I talked to him about sharing and how a nice word to use is "ours" to describe something that we work on together, like the laundry.

He nodded solemnly and said, "Ours." I was pleased.

He then grabbed a pair of his recently folded Lightning McQueen big boy underpants, rolled them up in a ball, giggled, tossed them on my head, and said, "Ours."

Lesson learned. Sigh.

Monday, July 27, 2009

This I Believe - Gregory Orr

This I Believe - Gregory Orr

Shared via AddThis

I love this bit:

"When I write a poem, I process experience. I take what's inside me, the raw, chaotic material of feeling or memory, and translate it into words and then shape those words into the rhythmical language we call a poem. This process brings me a kind of wild joy. Before I was powerless and passive in the face of my confusion, but now I am active: the powerful shaper of my experience. I am transforming it into a lucid meaning."

A kind of wild joy. Yes.

Friday, July 24, 2009

More randomness

Regarding what others think of me... it's a real dilemma, or challenge, for a writer, to not get ego and product mixed up. Of course you want others to like what you write, but first you have to want to write what you write and read what you write. In one sense, everyone else is secondary (sorry, all of you kind folks who might read this).

In terms of what others think of me apart from anything I produce, i.e. if they like me or don't like me, etc.... Well. How utterly embarrassing. As a 42-year-old grown woman, good grief, isn't it obvious that if that matters to me, then at some level I must be having a problem liking myself. So, therefore, I need others to make up the difference.

Oh, brother.

OK, the other sort of random thing I've been thinking about lately is how all of these social networking tools (FB, Twitter, blogs, etc.) are feeding an already narcissistic culture. It's making a value out of self-exposure and self-expression, beyond that of the artistic and into the realm of the purient. I've put my toe into the water of most of these new technologies, and in some cases have jumped in the deep end wholeheartedly. So my comments are not externally critical but looking into the mirror and asking how best to harness it all and where to draw the line.

Looping it back to my almost reckless Sally Field-ish self-expression of paragraph two ("You like me, you really like me!" right? heh heh, she giggles nervously), for me, I need to draw the boundaries for myself based on what I perceive as "useful self-expression" (i.e. useful to others, or useful for me to express to others) and "harmful self-expression" (which I'll just express to myself, or not at all). Maybe others have different boundaries. I'd be curious to hear.

I think this particular posting is potentially useful, because I suspect others may have similar feelings, so my self-exposure/random thought might connect with someone in a good way. Also, I believe most folks I know are primed and ready for a meaningful dialog around the impact of Web 2.0. There is a profound shift in the way we think, talk, write, interact. It is bringing generations together, but it's also creating mini-schisms. I care about this topic because it is making me a bit distracted, but also because I think there may be startling implications for my son as he grows up. I'm just not sure yet what those implications are.

So, there's my randomness on this Friday afternoon. Very fuzzy. I hope you still like me (I mean "like it")... Oops.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Random, Part 2

Realized today (for the umpteen-millionth time) that what other people may think of me (good or bad) is really none of my concern. It only becomes a problem for me if I make it a problem.


Also realized (AGAIN!) that there is always a third way. When you get trapped in a dilemma of two options, the best thing you can do is look for that third way. If the third way is closed, find a fourth.


C.S. Lewis wrote this about asceticism: "The wrong asceticism torments the self: the right kind kills the selfness. We must die daily: but it is better to love the self than to love nothing, and to pity the self than to pity no one."

Good ol' Clive, he sure had a way of putting it all in balance.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Curious Case

We watched "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" last night. While I found the film to be profoundly sad, some of the thoughts expressed were full of hope and meaning. Like this:

“...What I think is, it’s never too late...or, in my case, too early, to be whoever you want to be...There’s no time limit, start anytime you want...change or stay the same...there aren’t any rules...We can make the best or worst of it...I hope you make the best...I hope you see things that startle you. Feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you challenge yourself. I hope you stumble, and pick yourself up. I hope you live the life you wanted to...and if you haven’t, I hope you start all over again.”


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Random thoughts

Grace is random discussion with old friend over fish and chips on a rainy summer night in Maine. When topics can flow seamlessly, with more light than heat, from alternative career paths (“What if money didn’t matter?”) to politics to Michael Jackson’s funeral to latest literary finds and theological theories, you know you’re in the company of a kindred spirit.


It is interesting to me how at a certain point in life it is not uncommon for people of faith (whatever faith) to realize that God never needed them to be His bodyguards. They begin to let go of the need to be right and then start to really listen without needing to react.


Sam has recently discovered that I have another name besides “Mommy” that people besides him use for me. He’s tried using it a few times. It comes out sounding more like “Kerry” than “Kelly.” I have made it clear that he is to use the “M” word only. Funny how I’m reacting to this newly discovered bit of independence and wordplay. It is less about respect for me than for our special relationship. He’s the only one that gets to call me “Mommy” – I don’t want him to forget that it is a privilege.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Suffer me

I heard the phrase again the other day that never fails to get my back up: "I don't suffer fools gladly." I don't like it, mainly because it's often used as an excuse for being rude or dismissive of other's ideas and not giving someone a full hearing. A few years back I was interviewing a candidate for a job. Early in the interview, when I asked her to describe herself, she said, "I don't suffer fools gladly." It hit me as such an inappropriate statement for the interview, that, ironically, I didn't hear much of anything else she said and ended the interview as quickly as possible. I used her one "blunder" as an excuse for being dismissive. I didn't "suffer fools gladly" on that day. I'm not proud of that statement, but it's true.

I hope that we can teach our son to have more grace than me as he begins to see how profoundly we are all flawed. The great need of my heart is to have others suffer me, an insufferable fool.


One more unpardonable trespass,
one more intolerable slight,
one more day to suffer
insufferable fools.
You have your standards
and your righteous anger,
You are surely justified
in just one more bridge.
Pour the gas, light the match,
watch it burn, as you stand
blameless and alone
on your island
for perfect people.
Here’s the truth:
We are all fools.
Suffer me.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Sometime life as Supermom stinks. Well, frankly, it's a lie, the whole "supermom" idea. Working a full-time-plus management job, ticking away at a masters degree one class at a time, and striving to be all things to all the significant people in my life (and being ever mindful of the gap between who I am and who I ought to be)... well, life (or what I've made of it) simply can be overwhelming.

I realized a few weeks ago, shortly after returning from Grandma Kay's funeral (in a pensive mood about life in general), that most times I really don't see life for what it is, because I'm looking too closely. I'm in the middle of it, so I can't see it. I miss the patterns for the particulars.

People have so many metaphors for life. Life is a river. Life is an empty tomb. Life runs at you sideways when you're not looking (overheard that weird random imagery recently). Life is a truth wrapped in a lie, a hedge, a gate, a journey. Life. Always a metaphor. Nobody dares to look her straight in the face and name her.

I once heard a man say, "Sometimes the monkey on your back is just a lonely friend who misses you."

I think life is a monkey.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


I recently overheard a strange snippet of a conversation about recognizing loved ones in heaven, which reminded me of the even stranger conversation Jesus had with a group of Sadducees who asked Jesus whose wife a woman would be after death if she had married a bunch of brothers (consecutively, not all at once). Jesus basically told them all that they had missed the point. I'm not going to claim great theological understanding of this passage of scripture, but Jesus said a couple things clearly. He said that in the resurrection men and women don't marry but are like angels. He also said that God is the God of the living. Those two concepts struck me as worth fleshing out a bit. Hence, what follows...

(Matthew 22:23-32)

Will I know you in heaven? Most likely,
but not as I know you now,
not by sight, not my scent,
not by the way you call for me
without ever saying my given name.
(It’s strange when you do say it,
like you’re meeting me for the first time
for a pre-arranged interview: “Is it you?”)

We will be like angels.

Angels don’t marry. They are on fire.
They have purpose in eternity.
They avenge. They serve.
They tell secret truths
to wrinkled men in ancient temples
and pregnant teenage girls.
They come and go on the earth
as if they belong here,
eating our food, drinking our wine,
finding characters to fill up God’s story.
They pull us in and put us back on the page.

So we come back to this earth,
to the story on this page,
because God is the God of the living.
This is where eternity lives,
in all that is creation and creating.
We are in the thick of it now,
this making of things,
as we make music, make dinner,
make love, make believe,
make up, make over, make do.

And thus you choose to believe
in a God who gives you
seven times seven
times to try again (and again)
to commit each moment,
each yes, each name
to eternity.

I believe I will know you in heaven
by how hard you try.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Grandma Kay

On April 28 of this year, my father's mother, Catherine Griswold, died after 90 years on this earth, leaving a legacy that included 9 children (7 having survived her), 21 grandchildren, and 24 great-grandchildren. Several years ago, I wrote about my grandmother in my journal. It was part of a rediscovery of myself, my family, my inheritance, through words -- words that were "first thoughts," personal and unpolished. In her memory, I share these words now:

Grandma Kay, aka Catherine Griswold, my dad's mom, had nine children -- five boys and four girls. What comes to mind about Grandma Kay is that she is quiet and kind. And fair. With more than twenty grandchildren and a handful of great-grandchildren thrown in for good measure, she would have to be. Fair, that is. I remember her saying once a long time ago, when I was little, that she would not play favorites with any of the grandkids, and if she did have one or two that she liked maybe a bit better than the others, nobody was going to know about it.

Fairness translated into food in large quantities: Make sure you have plenty for everyone, so nobody could say they didn't get enough to eat or that so-and-so got more of such-and-such than they did. I remember one time sharing a can of Campbells chicken noodle soup with my grandmother, just the two of us at the long table in her long entryway/dining room/kitchen. I don't know where everyone else was, but that day I had Grandma Kay all to myself. Chicken noodle soup never tasted so good.

But usually that endless table was full of aunts and uncles and cousins -- at least when I was there. It would be the holidays -- Christmas or Thanksgiving or some other clan gathering -- so we were all at Grandma and Grandpa's house. And because we were all there, we were all eating. There would be the requisite turkey, of course, and huge mounds of mashed potatoes and gravy. But those were footnotes next to the casserole upon casserole dishes of lasagna and green bean casserole and jello salad, and just about any food that fixed up easy in a large casserole dish.

That's what I learned from Grandma Kay about food and about life: Make sure you have enough for everyone. Don't play favorites. Get a large enough table to fit everyone.

In subsequent Griswold family gatherings, I've noticed a tendency toward delicious dishes with dubious names -- e.g. "garbage bread" and "dump cake." It is rather the kitchen sink approach to cooking -- and with wonderful results. Maybe the lesson here is "you can't judge a book by its cover -- or a recipe by its name.
(July 15, 2004)

Grandma Kay's legacy, obviously, included food. The aptly named Dump Cake (see below) has become a perennial favorite at Belmonte family gatherings. It's easy to make, delicious warm or cold, and goes with anything. Enjoy.


Butter 13 X 9" pan
Dump in 1 can cherry pie filling
Dump in 1 can undrained pineapple
Dump in 1 box yellow cake mix
Melt 1 stick butter
Pour over cake mix
Dump on 1/2 package coconut
Dump on 1/2 package chopped walnuts
Do not mix!
Bake at 325 degrees F for 1 hour

Optional: serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Friday, June 19, 2009

Collection of gratefulness

Last fall I started writing down 3 things each night that I'm grateful for. I haven't kept up with it consistently, but have managed to gather together an interesting collection of blessings. Here are a handful:

I'm grateful for...

1. The dining room table. It is good to have a place to gather and eat pancakes, drink juice, and wake up together in the morning.

2. The baby monitor. Although Sam is no longer a baby, I still use the monitor at night. I find listening to him breathing in his sleep to be very comforting and reassuring to me.

3. A sermon strong enough to make me squirm.

4. A mother-in-law who likes to shop.

5. A playground at sunset with my son.

6. The ability to laugh at myself.

7. My car. It gets me to and from work, and it's completely paid for.

8. Reliable baby sitters.

9. Opportunities to learn from mistakes. (Life is a gift, no matter how often or how horribly we muck it up. If there's still a chance to learn, then I'm still alive and kicking, praise God.)

10. Nice clothes. Yes, I do really like nice clothes, and I'm grateful to have a few. So there.

11. Wise counsel from a friend.

12. Loyalty.

The Opposite of a Fence

A few years back I was leading a writing workshop. One of the exercises I gave to the group was to respond to the question, "What is the opposite of a fence?" I participated in this exercise as well, and what follows was my response:

A fence keeps out, so the opposite must bring in.
So is the opposite of a fence a hug?
Or is it your eyes looking into my eyes
telling me that it is safe to come close?
A fence separates, so the opposite of a fence must bring together.
Is the opposite an apology?
Or is it your acceptance and mercy
when I say I'm sorry and really mean it?
A fence divides properties,
so the opposite must share properties.
Is the opposite a gift?
Or is it your open hand of friendship?
A fence keeps things in, so the opposite must release things.
Is the opposite a key?
Or is it that one word from you
that frees my heart?
Your all-embracing acceptance and mercy,
the great gift of your life
-- your friendship even --
this is the key that unfences my heart.
Thank you, Jesus, for being the opposite of a fence.

Although this isn't exactly about motherhood, I want my son to understand fences in this way.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


I wrote the following thoughts for a Christmas Eve service a few years back. The story surrounding Christ's birth is rich soil for contemplating parenthood.


After praying and waiting and hoping for years, a faithful servant, you couldn’t believe it when the angel came to you. You could not believe the good news, and for your unbelief you were made silent. It almost seems unfair.

But Zechariah, your heart is humbled. And your silence brings you closer to God as He speaks to you in your quiet. There is so much for you to hear. Your son will eat locust and draw people to repentance and make straight paths for the Lord.

You are silent as you watch your wife of many years grow wide about the waste. You are silent as you hear her at the door greet Mary and bless her. You are silent, yet your heart sings because you, too, feel your son leap for joy as he is filled with the Spirit in the womb.

Your silence is a pregnant pause—a time of waiting before labor, before birth, before the coming of the messenger and the coming of our Lord. I long for such a silence, the last rebuke before rebirth.

~December 2003

Friday, June 12, 2009

Grandma Darrow

The level of detail stored in our memories about our parents and our parents' parents is truly remarkable. Pick up an old family photo. See where it takes you. Go ahead, don't be afraid. Try it.


That you were wearing a dress at a picnic
did not startle me.
It was that you were there at all,
grey cotton scarf pinned neatly around your neck
as usual, to keep out the draft.
You wore your comfortable brown shoes
because your ankles were swollen.
It was July.

You were not unwelcome, I assure you,
but you were supposed to be gone,
and I am supposed to remember you
in all the comfortable places:
Lunch on Sundays,
tomato soup and grilled cheese,
talk of school, mom’s work, old Aunt Hazel.
If I moved just right the kitchen chair would squeak
and I would giggle and look away
from the handkerchief around your neck,
where something bad happened to you
many years before.

I picture you happy in your garden,
with the corn and tomatoes in neat rows,
and the strawberries run amuck.
And I see you in your ’75 Dodge Dart,
driving straight and sure through
the streets of Lansingburgh,
your last car which I inherited
as my first car when you were gone.

That’s how I should remember you,
but there is one picture of you
I try to hide from myself,
the one of you, but not really you,
half you on a hospital bed,
greyer than your cotton scarf
that no longer hid the hole in your neck.

That is my last and smallest picture of you,
besides the flowers, and old women
with too much perfume, weeping quite realistically.
So seeing you today at the picnic
near the young maple that I had planted
behind our house on Amelia Drive,
next to Danny with the kitten Smokey
and cousin Joe with his music on the chaise,
it all seemed wrong somehow,
like an old movie with the sound off
a half beat.

My husband’s touch on my shoulder
brought me back to now.
I dropped the photo from twenty years past.

There is one other thing I hide from myself:
Of all the pictures, tastes, sounds
that are your memory,
I cannot recall saying I love you.
You were so sure of Springtime, and God,
and three square meals. Surely
you must have known this small thing.


Ruth & Naomi

I've always been fascinated by the story of Ruth. What a strange and interesting journey of family. I wrote this poem after having lived in two different "foreign" (to me) countries in less than one year. I felt after that experience that I was beginning to get a glimpse of understanding of Ruth's experience.


Leaning back in your favorite chair,
in the home you also inherited,
in this city of bread you have known
most of your life,
you ask me

if in moving from Moab,
a widowed childless child,
I chose bitterness over loneliness
for the mere promise of barley harvest?
Was it so simple, so easy for me,
to cling to my foreign God?

There must be more than this, you think.
I see the way your eyes narrow,
your head tips slightly to the left,
how you consider me, sip your tea,
and stroke your chin
in one fluid motion.

I tell you now:
It cost me.
To embrace a stranger for life
then lose him to death, oh yes,
it cost me my world.

Destiny is not so easy.
Entering Bethlehem,
we were discussed among the townsfolk.
You returned to your people to start over
with your son’s widow, of all things.
I was something new to them and to me:

I listened with care to conversations, and saw
sharp furrows around dark eyes
eventually give way to laugh lines,
softening in my mind
and in truth.

Your cup is empty,
your head nods,
your interest spent.
And I am home now.

No, not so easy,
but I knew that hope of family
in the abundance of Boaz.
Somehow I glimpsed the royal line,
the promise of eternal redemption,
in a barley harvest.

~March 1998


I wrote the following poem in the early days of our engagement (a thousand years ago!), as we were beginning to imagine a lifetime together.


My fond enigma,
your bold cold nose at my window
demands entrance from the snow.

I open the door,
watch you edge up the stair
and light upon a corner chair

As if to say,
"May I stay for tea before I go?"
As if I could say no.

Take off your coat,
perhaps your shoes --
isn't that why you came?
To stay past sundown,
past seasons, past rain.